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Living in Society

Iowa Caucuses in Presidential Election Years

Caucus-goer signing petitions.

On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, lowering the voting age to 18 years. I was eligible to vote in the 1972 general election yet I have no memory of doing so. There was little guidance and I recall confusion about whether to register in Iowa City where I attended university, or where I grew up in Davenport. Absent guidance, it was one less vote for George McGovern. I figured I’d vote in the next election.

On Oct. 26, 1972, McGovern gave a speech at a rally in Iowa City on the steps of Old Capitol. His motorcade of small-sized vehicles arrived late. This first paragraph from the New York Times coverage captured the subject and mood of the speech.

IOWA CITY., Oct. 26—Senator George McGovern expressed hope here today that the Nixon Administration’s confidence of an imminent cease‐fire in the Vietnam war was well founded. But he refused, in a carefully worded speech to 15,000 people on the campus of the University of Iowa, to credit the Nixon Administration for the prospect of peace, saying that those who had opposed the war deserved “much of the credit.”

New York Times, Oct. 27, 1972.

We were an anti-war crowd and McGovern was just what we wanted to hear. Many of us had protested the war in 1970 after Kent State and on campus in 1971 where we encountered the Scott County sheriff’s posse, tear gas, and more. I wasn’t worried about using my newly granted voting rights. We were involved in something bigger than one person. I remember this part of the speech.

“The question that haunts my mind this afternoon,” he told the cheering audience “is this: Why, Mr. Nixon, did you take another four more years’ to put an end to this tragic war?

“What did either we or the rest of the world gain by the killing of another 20,000 young Americans these past four years?.

“What did we get from the terrible unprecedented bombardment that has gone on these last four years—bombardment and artillery attacks that we are told have either killed or maimed or driven out of their homes some six million people, most of them in South Vietnam?”

New York Times, Oct. 27, 1972.

As we now know, Richard Nixon won the presidency then resigned in disgrace, making Gerald Ford president.

In 1976, I was serving in the U.S. military and unavailable to attend caucus. After getting rid of Nixon, I didn’t care who was the next president. Anyone would have been better. I was in transit from Fort Benning, Georgia to Mainz, Germany during the general election and did not vote. To be honest, I didn’t think much about voting and was ready to accept whoever was chosen by the electorate. Jimmy Carter was nominated by Democrats and won the general election.

The rest of my Iowa caucus life is as follows:

  • I first attended caucus in 1980 in the neighborhood near where I was born. I caucused for Ted Kennedy, who wasn’t viable. My late father’s union buddies tried to get me to join the Carter delegation. I didn’t. We elected Ronald Reagan that year.
  • I was living in Iowa City in 1984 and caucused for George McGovern. We re-elected Ronald Reagan.
  • In 1988 I was in Lake County, Indiana where I voted for Michael Dukakis in the Democratic primary. I recall cursing Iowans for giving us that guy, even though he did poorly in the Iowa caucuses. George H.W. Bush was elected president.
  • In 1992, still in Indiana, I voted for Bill Clinton in the primary and the general. I had been following him since his keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. I have a copy of the speech sent by his Arkansas staff. Tom Harkin won the 49 Iowa delegates during the Iowa caucus. As a favorite son, he did not have staying power. Clinton won the election.
  • In 1996 and 2000, I skipped the Iowa caucuses. If Democrats couldn’t re-elect a popular president then they should just disband, I thought. Same went for his vice president, Al Gore. Clinton won in 1996 and Gore had the 2000 election decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. We elected George W. Bush.
  • 2004 was when the Iowa caucuses started to get unmanageable.There were a lot of Democratic candidates and some came to our small city in Eastern Iowa. George W. Bush won re-election, beating John Kerry. 2004 marked the beginning of the myth about the caucuses being a vital party-building asset. This turned out to be malarkey.
  • 2008 was the zoo of caucuses. I led our precinct delegation for Edwards AND served as caucus secretary. It was a bitch to just get a count as the Middle School Cafeteria was too small and our delegation bled out into the hallway. Barack Obama got the most delegates and won the general. 2008 was the last time any attempt at diversity in attendance was made. We had people in wheelchairs from the assisted care facility lined up in the hallway just wanting to vote and go home. It was the last year care center people who needed accommodation attended.
  • In 2012 I chaired two precincts that were not my own. We all listened to the Barack Obama webcast and for the last time had serious conversations about platform issues and party building. While his margin eroded in our precinct, Obama won the precinct for the second time, and the general.
  • I got smarter in 2016 and served only as precinct captain for Hillary Clinton. I had learned to talk to attendees as they waited, encouraging them to stay. Clinton easily won our precinct, although statewide, the delegate count was even with Bernie Sanders. Trump won the general, as we know.
  • By 2020, the number of Democrats attending caucus decreased by 30 percent, driven by Republican and No Party registered voters moving into the precinct and Democrats dying or moving out. I led the caucus and that part of it went well. The results reporting process was glitchy, to be kind, and a national embarrassment. Biden won the general.

Going forward, I don’t care what the Democratic National Committee does about the nominating calendar. Unless the state party uses the caucus experience for party building, what’s the point? David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register was a peddler of the party building myth. I doubt Democratic activists are willing to swallow that any more. In the meanwhile, Republicans gained hegemony in Iowa.

Who knows if there will be a presidential preference poll at the 2024 Iowa caucuses? More importantly, who cares?

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Living in Society

School Board Election Coverage – 2021

My coverage of the Solon School Board election can be found at this link.

I’ve written what I intended before the election with the exception that I will attend the Oct. 20 candidate forum. If there is anything to report, I will write a post. I learned what I need to know to pick three. After doing so, it’s hard to be unbiased in my coverage, so I’ll stop. I will wrap up the election once the results are known.

Thank you so much for following along. I hope readers in the Solon Community School District vote and encourage their friends and neighbors to do likewise.

Click here for all 2021 Solon School Board Election Coverage

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Living in Society

School Board Conflicts of Interest

In the many and complicated discussions between voters, social media users, bloggers and candidates the 2021 Solon School Board election has generated some concerns about conflicts of interest. They can be addressed.

The Iowa Association of School Boards has specific guidelines about conflict of interest for school board members. I clipped the following image from their website.

Concerns about conflicts of interest were raised about Dan Coons, Stacey Munson and Cassie Rochholz. I’d point out the district has counsel that could guide the board through potential conflicts of interest and how to handle them. I’m not an attorney and am just reading information that is commonly available to voters. Here’s where we are:

In his response to my questionnaire, Kelly Edmonds asserted the following:

Dan Coons and Stacey Munson have spouses who work for the district, they would have to recuse themselves from voting or even being part of the upcoming 2023 contract negotiations.

Kelly Edmonds via email Oct. 8, 2021.

The Iowa Association of School Boards addresses this directly. “Iowa law does not prohibit a school employee’s spouse from serving on the school board.” While it may make some voters uncomfortable to have a school board member with a spouse that works for the schools, in my reading of the IASB site, it is permissible. If this matters to a voter, there are plenty of good candidates from which to choose.

What about upcoming contract negotiations in 2023? Wouldn’t spousal relationships affect them? We can look back to the communications disaster that was the 2019 negotiations and learn.

In 2017 the Iowa Legislature removed much of what could be collectively bargained with public employee unions. The way the board presented contract options in 2019 in light of the new law was more the problem. Every school employee had an opportunity to know the legislature gutted the collective bargaining law. The school board chose to bludgeon employees in the represented bargaining unit with the fact the law changed. As we saw in the 2019 school board elections, despite whatever anti-incumbent movement was created by contract negotiations, voters chose incumbent Adam Haluska for reelection. The school board’s handling of contract negotiations alienated teachers and community members.

Conflict of interest, in my view, is low on the priority list of issues as it relates to collective bargaining. Communications between parties is a more important issue. If I had advice for that school board it would be to avoid use of legal counsel to state the obvious.

The question of whether Cassie Rochholz’ employment with Edmentum represents a conflict of interest is more relevant.

At Edmentum, a single mission guides and inspires us as it defines our core purpose and the contribution we make to society: Founded in innovation, we are committed to being educators’ most trusted partner in creating successful student outcomes everywhere learning occurs. To help us work toward that mission while operating business, our key values guide our priorities and are evident in everything we do.

Edmentum mission and values statement from their website.

Edmentum sells learning solutions to schools, including those in the district. Cassie Rochholz has worked there as a director since December 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile. According to the IASB website, the restriction regarding conflict of interest is specific: “prohibiting being an agent of a textbook or school supply company selling to the district.” Rochholz was asked about this on her public Facebook page and I clipped the following discussion:

Cassie Rochholz campaign Facebook page.

I confirmed Edmentum products were used in the Solon School District. The basic framework of this concern is accurate: there is a potential conflict of interest in that Rochholz’s employer, where she is a director, sells to the district. Rochholz has addressed it. It is now up to voters to decide if her explanation is sufficient.

Conflict of interest is “in the weeds” of what voters look for in a school board candidate. Voters do appear to be interested in learning more about the candidates in 2021. Not many vote, though. 1,225 voters went to the polls in the 2019 school board election. The candidates got votes as follows:

Johnson County Auditor website.

If the 2021 school board election is like 2019, every issue will matter to voters. In my view, concerns about conflict of interest are reasonable. Candidates for office have a responsibility to address voter concerns on this or any topic. Any board member may have to recuse themselves for a number of reasons. Administrative staff has the resources to determine an appropriate course in specific situations or on specific votes. Concerns about these specific conflicts of interest, in my opinion, don’t rise to the level of being actionable. They certainly don’t disqualify anyone. In any case, voters should look at the whole person when selecting three on Nov. 2. There are seven candidates, each of which has much to offer and could be considered for the board.

Click here for all of my coverage of the Solon School Board Election.

Categories
Living in Society

SSB Candidates Respond

On Oct. 1, 2021 I mail merged a letter to each of the seven announced candidates for school board. Below is the text of the email. Following it is the verbatim response I received from each candidate in alphabetical order by last name. It is all good information.

Dear (Insert name),

I am a retiree who lives in the Solon School District. I’m reaching out to you for information so I can make an informed decision in the Nov. 2, 2021 school board election. I’d appreciate your direct answers to the following questions by return email.

I am asking all seven candidates the same questions. I plan to post the responses, without editing, on my website pauldeaton.com on Saturday, Oct. 9. If I don’t hear back from you, I will say so in my post.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation.

Regards, Paul

Paul Deaton, Solon

1. Why are you running for school board?

2. What experiences qualify you for this office?

3. What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected/re-elected?

4. Why should voters pick you over other candidates?

5. Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not?

6. Do you have a website, Facebook page or other place where voters can get information? Please provide a link.

A couple of notes about me:

I am taking a non-partisan approach to my reporting and am interested in providing information to district voters. I will not formally endorse any candidates and don’t plan to say who I am supporting on my website or in other public places before the election.

During the 2019 school board election, some of my posts about the election campaigns got more than 700 views. The highest vote-getter, Adam Haluska, got 446 votes.

I got your email address from the Johnson County Auditor website.

Email sent to Solon Community School District board candidates Oct. 1, 2021

Erika Billerbeck

  1. Why are you running for the school board?

I grew up in a family of public school educators. My mom was an art teacher and my dad was a high school principal. My desire to run for the board is partially influenced by my upbringing which always placed an emphasis on education. I was raised to be a critical thinker and to serve my community.

As a parent of two kids, who are both different in terms of their academic and social/emotional needs, I want to see my own children thrive in school. And, of course, I want to do what I can to ensure that all of our kids succeed in the classroom, regardless of their own backgrounds, interests, and individual challenges.

Learning about the many issues facing a significant number of Solon teachers also compelled me to run. In order for our students to be successful, we need to have teachers who feel empowered and supported. I’m interested in ensuring that the faculty has input on, and access to, quality curricula so that all state standards are being taught in literacy, math, social studies, science, and 21st-century skills.

As a school board member, I would strive to establish an environment of trust with the faculty, staff, and administration. Honest transparency is essential and one step toward achieving that goal is to revise the current school board policy, specifically that which dictates the “chain of command.” Rather than promoting an ethos of cooperation and mutual respect among all, as the policy is currently stated, school board members are dissuaded from engaging in open discourse with faculty, staff, and the public, and critical thinking is discouraged. This needs to change.

  1. What experiences qualify you for this office?

As a state peace officer, I have 21 years’ worth of experience serving in the public sector and resolving conflict. I understand the importance of problem-solving, listening, de-escalating stressful situations, enforcing and abiding by laws I may not always agree with, and having the ability to approach issues from more than one perspective. And the end, I must accept my share of accountability for the outcome.

During my career working for a complex state government system in a law enforcement capacity, I have had the opportunity to interact with a wide array of people in a variety of settings and circumstances. Almost every week, my job requires me to work, collaborate, cooperate, and compromise with people who often have very different values, beliefs, ideas, and priorities than my own.

As a sergeant, I’ve successfully helped lead and provide oversight for the officers in my district. I’ve learned how to push agency goals forward while maintaining respectful discourse with coworkers and the public. I believe my ability to listen and be an open-minded critical thinker will be an asset for serving on the SCSD board.

  1. What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected?

*Improve teacher morale and retention: A number of talented, experienced teachers have left our district as a direct result of a toxic work environment and the disrespectful treatment they’ve been subjected to. These problems have been exacerbated by an apparent lack of response by the school board. Numerous current and past teachers reached out to me to express their frustrations with the current board and superintendent, prompting me to make this one of my priorities.

*Improve communication: The prevalence of inadequate, untrustworthy and sometimes completely lacking communication from leadership to teachers, staff, parents, and students is a source of frustration to me as a parent and community member. I am quite aware that others share my frustration.

*Improve accountability: Currently, SCSD leadership avoids being held accountable when problems arise. This may be due to the present policy that discourages board members from performing their due diligence in terms of oversight.

  1. Why should voters pick you over other candidates?

I believe that everyone running for the school board is doing so with the same desire to lend a positive influence on the present and future SCSD and I have no doubt that one could find some common ground between my “platform” and those of other candidates. However, unlike some other candidates, I do not have any “conflicts of interest” such as a personal relationship with a school employee, nor am I employed by a company under contract with the district.

  1. Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not?

Currently, I cannot commit to seeking to negotiate another employment contract with Davis Eidahl any more than I can commit to seeking to terminate the employment contract. However, I do have concerns about the role he has played or failed to play in terms of addressing low teacher morale and the retention of our talented staff.

I think it is fair to say that the SCSD has a number of “hot button” issues that need to be addressed. From my perspective, experience, and in my discussions with Solon teachers and staff it is also fair to say that Mr. Eidahl has played a key role in turning up the temperature on those issues while failing to take any steps to defuse or resolve the problems.

  1. Do you have a website, Facebook page, or other places where voters can get information?

https://www.facebook.com/Billerbeck-for-Solon-School-Board-100985075683571

Tim Brown

Paul,

It is good to hear from you again. I am catching up on email after being gone for the weekend and wanted to get back to you on your request. This year, there have been more request for questionnaire responses than in the past and I will not have time to meet the timelines for the ones that came in more recently. I have already submitted responses to the League of Women Voter’s questionnaire which I believe are posted online already and I am finalizing the responses in the questionnaire from the Economist before I have to leave town later this week. I will also be participating in the forum that the Economist is hosting on October 20th.

With existing work, personal and volunteer commitments, my bandwidth is very limited over the next month. I hope you can understand, and perhaps we can talk at the forum.

Kind regards,
Tim

Dan Coons

Paul,

Thank you for reaching out and informing me about your need for more information to make an informed decision. Many of the questions you are posing will be answered in the Solon Economist by all of the candidates. We will also be having a live forum in October.

Please feel free to post the above response on your web page.

Best regards,
Dan Coons

Kelly Edmonds

Why are you running for school board?

Since moving to Solon and raising my family in this community, I have become passionate about improving the school experience for my sons and other children in our community.  My wife and I moved to Solon because we heard such great things about the school district. We were excited to be in a smaller community and in a district known for education and activities. What I have noticed now that we have lived here for several years is that Solon does have some outstanding educators and staff, a great athletics program, and there are lots of other activities that similar sized schools do not have. However, in speaking with parents in the school district, there is a lot of concern about current leadership, policy, and how decisions are made. I believe my experience as a business leader coupled with my passion to create a better future for our children and community makes me an ideal person to take an active role on the school board and can help the district make improvements to benefit students, staff, teachers and the community. 

What experiences qualify you for this office?

As a husband, father, business leader, volunteer, and board member of a nonprofit, I am always planning for a better future. The roles that I have assumed at this point in my life have taught me that an effective leader is a good listener and that nobody knows the strengths and weaknesses of an organization better than those on the front lines. To think that one can make the best decisions from afar or without consultation is foolish. I constantly strategize how to make the organizations or members I serve poised for growth, higher achievement, higher efficiency, safer, and more effective.  These are all the things that our district needs now, as it always has. Coupled with my passion for my own children’s education and wellbeing, as well as all of the kids in our community, I will work tirelessly to achieve the goals of the district as I do towards all endeavors that I pursue.

What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected/re-elected?

I would like to see a greater level of transparency in our district.  From my perspective, decisions have and are being made by the administration or the board without seeking input from parents, educators or using guidance from experts. I have been made aware of numerous examples of educators and staff speaking up about current policy or practices in the district only to have their voices go unheard and, even more concerning, those who have brought forth these issues have been punished and/or humiliated for questioning the district’s leaders. I’ve spoken to many parents who have contacted the current board and superintendent and have gotten no response to their written concerns.  Additionally, I would like to review fiscal policy and make sure that our tax dollars are being used to the maximum benefit to students, teachers and staff.  Solon historically spends less than 80% of its annual allocated budget which highlights a “tax and save” policy, yet funding for programs have been cut, our teachers are paid less than neighboring districts, all while parents are being asked for donations for simple items such as playground equipment.  Investment in our district should be a priority.

Why should voters pick you over other candidates?

I believe voters deserve to have a public school in a community which listens and responds to them. The two incumbents do not have a good track record of responding to questions from parents. Additionally, this past week, the Iowa City Press Citizen published responses from all seven of the Solon School Board candidates. The two incumbents, Tim Brown and Dan Coons, plus a new challenger, Cassie Rochholz, declined to respond to their questions. The school district does not need more members who decline to respond to concerns from the community.

Additionally, because Dan Coons and Stacey Munson have spouses who work for the district, they would have to recuse themselves from voting or even being part of the upcoming 2023 contract negotiations. If they are both on the school board, this would potentially leave only three board members to decide on such an important issue. When deciding who to vote for, please think about the implications of what it will mean for your child’s educational experience if contract negotiations go the way they did in 2019 and more teachers leave the district.

Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not?

My current understanding is that Davis Eidahl has not been interested in listening to public health experts when it comes to COVID-19 mitigation in the school building. I have also heard accounts from many staff and parents that he rarely consults educators on educational decisions and since his tenure, Solon schools have been a “hostile work environment” and that he engages in “bullying tactics.”  I have heard similar stories from his tenure at the Ottumwa school district. In fact, there was an Ottumwa opinion piece that alluded to this issue (https://www.ottumwacourier.com/opinion/a-new-better-path-for-ottumwa-schools/article_8367e8ca-b059-11e7-b397-9bd9db783f26.html).

However, I am willing to assess his performance as superintendent in more detail and work with him before making a final decision about his future as Solon’s superintendent.

Do you have a website, Facebook page or other place where voters can get information? Please provide a link.

https://www.facebook.com/Edmonds4Solon/

Stacey Munson

Why are you running for school board? 

I have given thought to running for school board for several years and decided that now is the right time. My background in healthcare management helps me to be uniquely positioned to understand complex finances, challenges with recruitment and retention of staff, and data driven analytics; all while maintaining an intentional focus on the people we are here to serve – our students and families.    

What experiences qualify you for this office? 

I am a 2001 graduate of Solon High School and am extremely grateful for my experience at Solon as well as my post-secondary education experiences. I am the daughter of a retired educator, and my husband is an educator at Solon High School; thus I have lived my entire life listening to educators talk about what they do and why they do it. My three children attend school in the district. These experiences as well as my professional experience working in healthcare management have helped me to be uniquely poised to understand our school district from a variety of viewpoints as well as to have the necessary financial and analytical skills to successfully function as a school board member.   

What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected/re-elected? 

If I would be elected to the Solon School Board, I would want to focus on the following: 

  1. Increasing transparency and communication between the school board and community. This includes holding school board meetings in a larger space that is more welcoming for parents, students, and community members to attend. 
  2. Working to ensure that all students and families in our district are represented and heard by our school board. It is diverse experiences and opinions that build strong communities, and we must build confidence that not only majority opinions are heard and listened to by our board and administrators. We need to foster open dialogue about the issues that are controversial or concerning for our families.   
  3. A deeper evaluation of vacant positions that have not been filled is in order. Over the past several years there have been several positions that have been vacated and left unfilled. I would like to explore why this has occurred, what classes or services are no longer offered because of these vacancies, and the fiscal impact of these vacancies. In addition, discussing and understanding the potential barriers to reinstating these positions would be an essential component of this evaluation.  
  4. Understanding past and current spending practices, why these practices have continued, and discussion among administration and board members about if these practices should continue; namely discussion around any percentage of the authorized budget that is left unspent. 

Why should voters pick you over other candidates? 

My personal and career experiences as well as my commitment to Solon make me an excellent candidate for school board. I am moderate in much of my thinking and believe that in most issues, common ground can be achieved between divided groups.  I strive to understand situations and issues prior to making judgements, and seek this position only to serve my community.  

Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not? 

I cannot offer a fair and educated opinion on this matter at this time.  Prior to weighing in on the employment contract for any administrator, I would need to have the opportunity to work directly with that individual for a period of time.  

Do you have a website, Facebook page or other place where voters can get information? Please provide a link. 

https://m.facebook.com/Stacey-Munson-for-Solon-School

Michael Neuerburg

(Editor’s Note: Neuerburg said he was planning a response yet it didn’t arrive by the deadline. If he does return responses, they will be posted here.)

Cassie Rochholz

Hello Paul,

Thanks for reaching out.  I am going to refrain from answering questions via social media, however I encourage you to attend the public forum on Oct 20th and review the candidates information being published in the Solon Economist.

Have a great week,

Cassie

Click here for all of my coverage of the Solon School Board Election.

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Living in Society

SSB Candidates Respond to Press Citizen

On Thursday, Oct. 7, the Iowa City Press Citizen published responses to a questionnaire sent to the seven Solon School board candidates. Because of technical challenges with Twitter and Facebook, I am posting a printed version from the online newspaper to which I subscribe here.

If readers subscribe to the newspaper, here’s a link to the article online.

I will have comments on the candidates once the responses to Journey Home and the Solon Economist are in. For now the Press Citizen responses can stand on their own. I will point out that the circulation of the Solon Economist is less than 1,000, and there are 3,541 registered, active voters in the school district. Those who didn’t respond to the Press Citizen may have missed an opportunity on their way to 500 votes on Nov. 2.

Click here for all of my coverage of the Solon School Board Election.

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Living in Society

Facebook Comments on WordPress

Sumac on the state park trail, Oct. 5, 2021.

Most everyone was affected by the six-hour outage of Facebook on Monday, Oct. 4. Being offline with the social media network had limited impact on my daily life, although globally, many people rely on WhatsApp which was also down along with Instagram.

I discovered the outage while logging in to read the Facebook pages of school board candidates. The research was not critical so I worked on something else when I couldn’t get in. Like with any interruption, it was hard to get back to the project even when Facebook returned.

When former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower Frances Haugen was testifying before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on Tuesday, it got wall-to-wall media coverage. For someone plugged into the internet like I often am, it could not be ignored. By the end of the day, Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg had responded to the proceedings on his social media site. The endgame here is two things. When billions of people participate in an online social media platform there will be problems. Facebook and other social media applications should be regulated more than they are. Now it’s time for the Congress to do their work.

I joined Facebook in March 2008, the spring after our daughter graduated from college. It was a way to stay in touch. Over the years Facebook was eclipsed in our relationship by other social media apps and today I gain insight on Twitch, and to some extent Tik Tok. The migration of the millennial generation from Facebook has to be bad for the company’s bottom line.

I don’t use WhatsApp. I make a post on Instagram every day or two and cross post it to Facebook. My time on Facebook is reading notifications, wishing friends a happy birthday, being admin for two private groups (high school classmates and neighbors), and posting selected writing from this blog. I store some information on the platform yet my main biographical information is on LinkedIn. Facebook serves a function in my life yet could easily be replaced.

We hear about advertising on Facebook a lot. I don’t recall seeing many ads, and that’s likely because I rarely scroll my time line and when I do, my ad settings are to show me the most generic types of ads selected by the platform based on demographics they know. I get a lot of ads about medicines, the names of which I can’t pronounce. They are easily dismissed without reading. I am not looking to buy something when on Facebook so I pay little attention to ads.

My visits to Facebook are brief and with purpose. I save my scrolling time for Twitter where I maintain lists of users in whom I have interest. Facebook decided what posts I should see and occasionally I see something that is of genuine interest. Not often, though. Not often enough to spend much time there.

I’m agnostic about Facebook and its related companies. I use the application when it brings value. Otherwise I don’t open it and don’t have it installed on my mobile device. When there is a hiccup on the internet we all hear it. With time, it becomes part of the background noise and out of sight. I’m okay with that.

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Living in Society

Who Has Standing on Military Affairs?

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Republican approach to oversight of our military is curious and ineffective. On the one hand they vehemently criticize the administration’s handling of our country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the other, Senator Tom Cotton sponsored legislation ending U.S. funding for Afghan refugees brought here as a result of the withdrawal, something they said they wanted. Cotton was joined by the 49 other Republican senators, yet their measure failed.

Republicans, and some Democrats, don’t think twice about spending $7.7 trillion on the U.S. military over 10 years without scrutinizing details of where the money goes. They reject an audit of the Pentagon. At the same time, Republicans reject the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act which would help everyday Americans at half the price.

Cotton appeared with Second District congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks at her re-election announcement fundraiser in Iowa City.They then co-wrote an op-ed piece for the Des Moines Register in which they laid out their grievances about the Afghanistan withdrawal. It was pure politics in our red state. As far as I’m concerned, Senator Cotton should resign and return to Arkansas to peddle snake oil. Apparently that’s what he might be good at.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks was an ophthalmologist during military service. How does that qualify her to evaluate the Biden administration on military and foreign affairs? It doesn’t.

Unlike Democrats who are held to a higher standard of truth, Miller-Meeks can spew anything that comes to mind without regard to accuracy. If what she says is unhinged from reality, she thought it, asserted it with confidence, and therefore among Republicans it must be right. As a freshman in congress she’s proving to be little more than a parrot for what the moneyed class seeks: destruction of American democracy.

Whatever flaws the administration may have in military and foreign affairs, Joe Biden himself doesn’t have many vulnerabilities going into the midterm elections. First of all, he’s not on the ballot. More importantly, the man got the most votes of any candidate for president ever, 81,268,924 votes and 7,052,770 more than the next closest candidate. Despite the mad raving of pillow merchants and such, it was the most secure election ever. The results are not in doubt.

What galls me about members of congress like Miller-Meeks and Cotton is they have no respect for the authority embodied in the presidency that transcends administrations. We all get it. When they grandstand, it’s to make some political point rather than solve any of our pressing problems.

Neither respects the chain of command in civilian leadership of our military. They daily disrespect the president. Chain of command is a lesson both should have learned while serving in the Army. They assert what they present as factual about the military when the fact is they spin a yarn that ventures from the truth from its beginnings. Life in the military and management of foreign affairs is more complicated than the sawdust laden beef they peddle as hamburger.

A majority of Americans like Biden’s policies. The American Rescue Plan Act, which Miller-Meeks voted against, provided needed relief during the run up to distributing a viable vaccine for the coronavirus. Miller-Meeks did her part to add to quackery about the vaccine, including support for hydroxychloroquine treatment and misstatements about children getting sick with COVID-19.

We need members of congress with a grip on reality. Not those like Miller-Meeks who would say anything that comes to mind without regard for truth and logic. If she wants to opine about military and foreign affairs, that’s her right. She should stop taking talking points from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, do her own homework, and level with the American people.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

School Board Campaign Conventions

Conventional wisdom in the Solon Community School District board election is there is a certain way of doing things. Call it a “Solon way” if you need a name for it.

From the filing deadline on Sept. 16 until election day on Nov. 2 there is not a lot of time. Candidates have to contact voters in a way that convinces about 500 of them they are the best person for the school board.

For the most part, conventional campaigns go something like this:

  • Planning, including finance and yard signs.
  • Strategy, including web presence, alliances with other candidates.
  • Filing.
  • Voter outreach via personal networking, U.S. Postal Service, in-person, and internet.
  • Submit information to organizations via questionnaire: League of Women Voters, Solon Economist, and others.
  • One large candidate forum, this year on Oct. 20.
  • Get out the vote.

There is an economy to conventional wisdom in that energy can be focused on a limited number of tasks. If one performs them all well, they have their best foot forward. If they don’t win, they can say they did their best and garner some satisfaction for having run.

Being on the school board doesn’t come with financial consideration, i.e. no pay. Most candidates have lives filled with work that needs doing to support themselves. There is not a lot of time for nuance in a campaign. Conventional wisdom supports busy people in that campaigns run by it have a well-worn path to conclusion, if not to winning.

Because of conventional wisdom, it is difficult for a candidate to break out from the herd. This year there are seven candidates, Billerbeck, Brown, Coons, Edmonds, Neuerburg, Munson and Rochholz. Brown and Coons are incumbents, each of whom was elected multiple times. The opening for a non-incumbent was created when Rick Jedlicka decided not to run for another term. In a calcified school board election environment, the competition would be for that one seat, assuming Brown and Coons would dominate because of their incumbency. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As I do the work to understand the seven 2021 candidates, I reflect on the campaign of Jami Wolf, who I view as a breakout candidate among six who ran for two seats in 2019. More than others, she devoted time and resources to networking throughout the community. She had a natural connection with school board election voters in that she volunteered at the school. She is outgoing and friendly. Her career in real estate reinforces qualities needed in a campaign: realism, public speaking, and poise. She was open to meeting with almost anyone. While she had a Facebook page, it appeared to me her focus was on person-to-person contact. She won the open seat on the board.

Who will be the breakout candidate in 2021? I don’t know. What worked for Wolf may not work for candidates with a different personality style. Effective voter outreach will make the difference on Nov. 2.

A lot has been made of the district’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic. Little in conventional wisdom about campaigns covers a public health crisis during a pandemic. Some like what the school administration has done. Others do not. It seems unlikely that the single issue of number of instances of COVID-19, managing outbreaks, and communication about COVID-19 cases in the schools will be the deciding factor in this election. Cassie Rochholz and Erika Billerbeck were quoted by KCRG on Sept. 29 in reaction to the district experiencing 67 positive COVID-19 cases in a single week. Their comments typify the division around the pandemic:

Some parents in the school district think the rapid increase in cases is a direct result of not requiring masks for students or staff.

“That’s in a population of about 1,500 students. And when you compare it to a system like Iowa City where they are requiring masks, right now I believe they have 36 active cases in a school system that’s 9 times the size of Solon,” Erika Billerbeck, a school district parent, said.

Billerbeck said, at the very least, she wants better communication from the school.

“I won’t find out until Monday evening what the statistics were for the previous week,” Billerbeck said. “So as a parent trying to make a decision day-to-day, we’re not receiving that information to make a good choice for our kids.”

Other parents, like Cassie Rochholz, say families and students should have a choice when it comes to mask-wearing.

“Parents need the option to choose what is best for their child, and no child fits squarely into a box, no child is the same as one another,” Rochholz said.

KCRG website Sept. 29, 2021.

It is not hard to line up the candidates for and against administration policy and its practice regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

If conventional wisdom makes it easier to manage a campaign, it does not assure winning. Innovative strategies and effective outreach to voters beyond one’s personal circle will be what decides the election. If the electorate is of a mood to replace the current board, three newcomers could win. We’ll see the mood of the electorate in the coming four weeks.

Click here for all of my coverage of the Solon School Board Election.

Categories
Living in Society

Solon School Board Election Update

Typical of off grid communications that go on during a school board election, I found out by happenstance the Solon Economist will host a candidate forum for the Solon School Board election on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Solon Center for the Arts. If you can, please attend. Thankfully the forum was moved to a larger venue than in 2019. This is the only announced forum to date and it’s typically the big one.

This blog is planning to cover the forum, and I expect will get to press before the larger, more clunky news organizations with printing presses, cutoff times, and such.

The significance of the date is this: Oct. 18 is the last day to request an absentee ballot from the Johnson County Auditor’s office. When candidates and their canvassers are talking to voters, they shouldn’t wait until the forum to get an absentee ballot. Request one now. The completed, mailed ballot is due into the auditor’s office by 8 p.m. on election day.

The auditor’s office indicated a petition was received for satellite voting at Solon High School. Details to come once it is announced. Monday, Oct. 4, is the deadline for petitions for satellite voting.

This is a good time to mention other election deadlines. These are copied and pasted from the auditor’s website:

Dates and deadlines
  • Tuesday, August 24: First day auditor’s office can accept requests for mailed absentee ballots, 70 days before election day.
  • Tuesday, October 5: There will be no City Primary Election in Iowa City or University Heights. (Other cities do not have a primary requirement.)
  • Monday, October 11: Johnson County does not observe the federal Columbus Day holiday and our office will be open.
  • Wednesday, October 13: First day absentee ballots can be mailed and first day in person early voting is allowed by state law. Note that ballots are not required to be ready by this date. More information on when voting will start will be available closer to Election Day.
  • Monday, October 18: Voter pre-registration deadline and deadline to request mailed ballot, 5 PM. In person early voting and election day registration are still available after this deadline.
  • Monday, November 1: Last day for in person early voting at auditor’s office.
  • Tuesday, November 2: Election Day. Polls open 7 AM to 8 PM. Vote at regular polling places. All domestic mailed absentee ballots must arrive at auditor’s office before the polls close at 8 PM in order to be counted.

Click here for all of my coverage of the Solon School Board Election.

Categories
Living in Society

Sprawl is Coming Our Way

View of Trail Ridge Estates on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

It was two weeks before the local newspaper published an explanation of heavy equipment activity on a 130-acre farm field off Highway 382. On Sept. 15, the Watts Group received unanimous approval of a developer’s agreement and preliminary plat from the Solon City Council. The city annexed the area and approved residential zoning this summer, according to Margaret Stevens, editor of the Solon Economist.

The population of the City of Solon grew from 2,037 in 2010 to 3,018 in the 2020 U.S. Census. The new subdivision proposed 220 parcels and 2.43 people lived in an average American household during the Census. Trail Ridge Estates, as it is called, will add population of roughly 535 people once it is built out. I expect the subdivision to be built out quickly.

The farmer who previously owned the field grew commodity crops, mostly corn and soybeans. That agricultural production won’t be missed. The challenge of building rural subdivisions like Trail Ridge Estates is they presume residents will drive for jobs, provisions, church, school and social activities. They further the culture of automobiles.

There will be a multi-use concrete pad installed for basketball and possibly pickle ball, according to the plans. There will be a fenced dog park. The subdivision has access to the state park trail from which I took the photo. Children could conceivably walk to school along the trail, but I predict busing and individual vehicles will provide most of that transportation.

I believe people will spend more time indoors and build generously-sized homes to accommodate indoor activities. Two and three car garages will be popular. The parcels could average about a half acre, which is plenty of room for a vegetable garden. Whatever sociologists call the current pattern of “nesting,” there would be lots of that going on.

The point of describing this subdivision is to say old-style urban sprawl is ongoing. While larger cities slowly work toward sustainable buildings, in rural cities, old-style, inefficient housing continues to be built. There is clearly a market for it. The amenities of a well-maintained K-12 school infrastructure, three churches, a large sports and recreation complex, and proximity to Big Ten sports, an airport, and diverse shopping make it attractive to certain types of young conservative couples. With relatively low gasoline prices ($3.09 per gallon today), commuting for work to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, the Quad-Cities, and even to Des Moines is affordable if one can tolerate the windshield time.

The area is turning from Democratic to Republican as it grows. That’s true of Iowa’s Democratic enclaves more generally. There is a culture of civic engagement in which people do not discuss party politics, even if it is constantly in the news that comes in from Cedar Rapids, cable television, radio, and beyond. Plenty of Democrats, Republicans, and No-Party voters work side-by-side in organizations that support a variety of social engagement activities. Politics is considered something to discuss only with family and like-minded others. We’ve become insular in our politics and that reinforces a culture that gives rise to urban sprawl like Trail Ridge Estates.

Among the causes to which I dedicate my time, urban sprawl is low on my list of priorities. If farm field owners insist on growing commodity crops and livestock, then one farm more or less doesn’t matter. The better question is whether lives lived in insulated islands like this are worth living. One assumes people who pay a quarter million dollars and more for a home on half an acre would say they are. I guess that’s the reality we have to accept before social change is made.

Like many, I don’t like the build-out of the area to which we moved in 1993. It wasn’t inevitable although the growth is welcomed by the city. The three convenience stores in town do a booming business. The local grocery store has made it thus far, despite big box store competition nearby. We have a vibrant restaurant scene and there are loads of school-related activities. The Catholic and Methodist churches have little risk of consolidation. The annual town festival turns out hundreds of people to watch the parade and hay bale toss.

With the cultural life of Iowa deteriorating under Republican leadership, I know few who would seek out this new subdivision. Maybe I’m just out of touch with that segment of society. As I adjust to post-pandemic life, assuming the pandemic will eventually end, I’ll have to work harder to stay engaged with diverse people. In the meanwhile, observing new construction is an activity as old as human civilization and I’m there for it.

Observing updates in the new subdivision gives me a reason to take my daily exercise walking to town. It’s a longer walk, although sometimes I need that.